This week Australia’s biggest ‘terrorism’ trial came to an end. Seven of the so-called ‘Barwon 12’ were convicted of being members of an unnamed and unspecified terrorist organisation.
When these men were first arrested in 2005, State and Federal Governments said that an imminent terrorist attack had been thwarted. No such attack was identified during the trial. The broad terms in the ‘anti-terror’ legislation has meant that these men have been found guilty of basically thinking and talking tough.
These men definitely did discuss the ideas of radical Islam. They are also guilty of perhaps a certain amount of bravado, but nothing more. With the Federal Government spending more than $20 billion chasing so-called terrorist prosecutions, they desperately needed some trophies in the cabinet to justify the money that has been spent.
The Supreme Court jury found Abdul Nancer Benbrika guilty of intentionally directing the activities of an unspecified terrorist organisation and of being a member of an unnamed terrorist organisation.
Six of his co-accused were found guilty of being members of an unnamed terrorist organisation and another four were acquitted. The jury was unable to reach a verdict about the final accused, although he is likely to face a re-trial. The problem of the case was not with the jury’s deliberations but with the definitions in the laws.
The four who were found not guilty walked free from court nearly four years after they were arrested. Defence lawyer Rob Stary called on the Federal Government to apologise and compensate the men.
Speaking at a media conference at Trades Hall in Melbourne Stary said “The first thing we would expect the federal police and the Government to do is to offer an apology to these four men”.
The men have been held in high-security detention since their arrests. The conditions were similar to those experienced by inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Given none of the men ever committed any violent acts, it is obvious that they should not have been held in such conditions while the presumption of innocence still applied.
Stary also attacked the comments of the Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland. McClelland was quick to welcome the convictions of the first group of men in the press – even before the whole trial was over! Stary said “It beggered belief that he would make any comment. McClelland was either ill advised or he had no concept about the process”. The comments could well now be grounds for an appeal.
The case consistently received appalling coverage in the capitalist press, especially the Melbourne Herald Sun. It should be noted that there was no proven evidence that the men would commit any act. Despite this many papers spun up stories suggesting that the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Westgate Bridge were targets of the men. It is highly unlikely that this mass propaganda campaign did not have any effect on the jury.
The Socialist Party has called for the ‘anti-terror’ legislation to be repealed. The definition of terrorism in the Act includes “seditious intention” and the act of urging someone to “attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure a change to any matter established by law”.
These laws could easily be used against groups who are advocating all sorts of political change. The legislation stifles free speech and places barriers on groups engaging in legitimate dissent. Today the laws are used against radical Muslims, tomorrow they will be used against trade unions, socialists and other groups protesting against government policy.
This particular case is not yet over and more ‘terrorist’ cases are coming up. The seven men have still not been sentenced and this could take several more months. Their lawyers have indicated that the men will all appeal against their convictions.